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‘They Do Not Want Us,’ Ukraine Says of NATO as Leaders Meet

(Bloomberg) -- With one foot in the door on European Union membership, Ukraine’s leadership is feeling if anything even more bitter about NATO as the military alliance gathers in Spain for its annual summit.

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Ukraine is told “you are not a member because we do not want you,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Deputy Chief of Staff Ihor Zhovkva, who is responsible for foreign policy, said in an interview in Kyiv. “NATO is telling us we are not giving you anything.”

The alliance’s members including the US, UK and nations across Europe have of course sent large arrays of weaponry into Ukraine to help it fight Russia’s invading forces.

Those weapons have steadily grown in intensity to include more offensive arms and, this week, a pledge from the US to ship an advanced surface-to-air missile defense system. NATO states have also provided financial aid to keep the Ukrainian government operating.

But the alliance as a whole, according to Zhovkva, has fallen short, and Ukraine’s expectations for Madrid are low.

“Obviously what we want to achieve,” he said, speaking at his office along the darkened, sandbagged corridors of the presidential building, “is unanimous, vocal support for Ukraine.”

With Ukraine under intensified missile attacks, including on a shopping mall Monday with at least 18 people killed, Zelenskiy will address the alliance’s 30 leaders by video. Zhovkva will be there in person to press his country’s case.

Ukraine has written its aspiration to join the transatlantic military alliance into its constitution, and has been seeking a so-called membership action plan to make that happen, so far without success and against strong opposition from Moscow.

Zelenskiy has said he is ready to consider committing to some form of “neutrality,” as demanded by Moscow, but only in exchange for firm security guarantees from Ukraine’s partners.

NATO’s political support is important, Zhovkva said, just as it is from the Group of Seven, whose leaders just met for three days in Germany, or any other international body.

He acknowledged, too, that much of the vital bilateral military Ukraine is getting comes from NATO members, including Poland, the UK and the US. Yet Ukraine expected more practical support from NATO, arguably the only body equipped to offer effective security guarantees against a nuclear armed Russia.

The government in Kyiv asked NATO for weapons before the war, for a no fly zone after it began, and for a membership perspective throughout, Zhovkva said, adding “we received zero answer.”

Many NATO members, including the US, fear that enforcing a no-fly zone would lead quickly to a direct confrontation between nuclear powers. Offering membership now, meanwhile, could give credence to President Vladimir Putin’s justification for the war as a response to NATO expansion, and could again lead to a rapid escalation.

The broader stance of the alliance might smart less if NATO members individually had been faster to provide the heavy weapons Ukraine believes it needs to survive, if not win the war.

“Now in Ukraine we are living a little bit quicker,” he said. “People are dying.”

A new draft security concept for the alliance needs to acknowledge clearly that its primary threat is Russia and that the best defense it has against that threat is Ukraine, Zhovkva said.

With a military that has proved its ability and direct experience in fighting Russian armed forces, he said his country would benefit -- rather than jeopardize -- the security of other NATO members.

Adding Sweden and Finland to the alliance or expanding its rapid 15-day response force would all improve Europe’s security, according to Zhovkva. But imagine what would have happened, he said, if Ukraine had taken 15 days to deploy its forces once Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

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